Inspired by the astonishing disparity between American-style nature documentaries of the past two decades and those produced abroad, usually of British or French origin. All of these have voice narration in English and, thanks to the democratization of content made possible (in part) by the ubiquity of popular streaming services, most of these can be enjoyed by those who might not be getting the same level of quality from television programming.
In short, these films and film series represent the most engaging techniques used for nature documentary even when, as you’ll find, the range of style and sentimentality is broad and varied. Once you’ve seen them the rest are put into better perspective.
Not available for streaming? Be sure not to overlook the audio/visual services provided by your local public library.
Living Planet, The (1984) (12 Episodes) Produced by Richard Brock, written and presented by David Attenborough
Microcosmos (1996) Written and Directed by Claude Nuridsany & Marie Pérennou, with enchanting score by Bruno Coulais
Blue Planet, The (2001) (9 Episodes) Produced by Alastair Fothergill, written and narrated by David Attenborough, with narration by Pierce Brosnan for the U.S. version
Life of Mammals, The (2002) (10 Episodes) Produced by Mike Salisbury, written and presented by David Attenborough
March of the Penguins (2005) Directed by Luc Jacquet
Oceans (2009) Directed by Jacques Perrin & Jacques Cluzaud, narrated by Pierce Brosnan. A Disney nature production.
Animal Odd Couples (2012) This 53 minute PBS Documentary is included here not necessarily on account of the production value, but because I feel a strong connection with the subject matter. Last I checked it’s still available for streaming (free, no account or signup required) – visit Animal Odd Couples on PBS video site.
Hidden Kingdoms (2014) (3 Episodes) Directed by Simon Bell & Gavin Maxwell, with narration by Stephen Fry